Wendi Gu is a literary agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates and feels privileged to represent a talented range of award-winning and bestselling children's books authors and illustrators. For all children's books categories, from picture books to young adult, Wendi values books that help promote love and inclusivity, told with lyricism and heart. She lives in Brooklyn with her new spouse and golden-doodle puppy named Beanie Gu.
Why did you become an agent?
I had no idea this job existed until I started assisting one! When I was in college, I mostly just dreamed of living in New York City and working in books. I stayed in the agenting lane because I had great mentors who helped me decode the ins and outs of the industry with good humor, and because I began to see children’s books as an opportunity to help make the world a more inclusive place.
What does a daily life look like for you as an agent?
I think what makes this job interesting is that no day is the same. My job is split into a few brackets, and on any day or week I can do a mixture, all, or just one of these. Here are a few of those brackets: editorial development, new talent scouting, and administration (which can include anything from deal negotiation, reading contracts, managing publication days across publishers, making payments come through in a timely manner, etc). There are in-between spaces too – like having discussions with clients about the longterm career goals, or figuring out which manuscript is best to go out with next.
What do you like the most and least about being an agent?
Broadly, it is a wonderful feeling to help make a lifelong dream come true. But because writing is one of those things that’s on many bucket lists, there is pressure to do it right, so I try to keep a humble attitude and do the best I can with the resources I have. And in the vein, my least favorite thing is sharing declines from publishers with my clients, because it can’t not feel like the agent’s fault, no matter how much you (or your colleagues) try to convince you otherwise.
Does being an API affect your job? If yes, how?
This is hard to answer perfectly, and I will probably be asking this question of myself for the rest of my life. I think having a hyphenated identity and growing up between two languages hugely shaped my worldview and the books I happen to be interested in. I think I look for books that discuss the various layers of identity, even or especially if they feel conflicting.
What’s the most important thing to you in a query letter?
Probably clarity and brevity!
What do you look for in a Twitter pitch?
I think that a good comp can really take you far!
What are the trends in the industry at the moment? How do you think creators should navigate these trends?
I hate to be that person on the panel, but I can balk at the term trends because I think writing in service of them never works for anyone. I think that a book feels raw and essential when it comes from an essential part of you. I always ask my clients this question when they are stuck: what is the heart of the book, or, what drove you to write it? It’s a simple question but doing that investigative work always makes the book feel fuller. My favorite books grab me by surprise – they are not part of a pack. In my experience, trends come around and go around, and maybe by the time a trend is a trend there’s probably already some speculation, and then a bubble, which will burst.
How do you see the Big 5 becoming the Big 4 impacting creators? What happens when subs are at auction; will S&S/P/RH bid against each other, or will they resolve it in house? Smaller publishers have produced many blockbusters this summer; do you foresee the merger changing that?
When I started working in publishing in 2013, Penguin and Random House has just merged, and I remember reading reports and predictions that in one decade, there would only be two big comglomerate publishing houses in existence. It looks like we’re a little behind schedule on that prediction, but I’m sure publishing will change in more ways than we can even guess. Most immediately, I predict it will be harder for imprints to compete against each other in an auction if they are under the same umbrella, which means competition will no be the primary factor that increases advances for creators. But on the other hand I believe that auctions and high advances are not the only thing that can make a sustainable career for a writer or artist. It is my hope that more artists and writers can make a living from their passions. I sincerely, and very cornily, believe that such a thing will make the world a better place.